The role of Spanish in science, new technologies and the Internet has become a sore point; one to which the Valladolid Congress gave priority. According to stats from Global Research only 4.5 per cent of Net users – around 26 million people – are Spanish speakers. This puts Spanish in fifth place after English, Japanese, Chinese and German. However many of the 400 million don’t even have basics like shoes, medicines or homes.
Spanish is said to be the third or fourth most spoken language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese and English (and, when fourth, after Hindi). Some sets of statistics even have it ahead of English. But then it must be quite difficult deciding who to include and counting all those hundreds of millions of heads. By the time you’ve finished and processed the data, it’s all changed!
Should it really be called Spanish at all? Castellano is used to refer to the Spanish spoken in Spain, a respectful term to distinguish it from the co-official Gallego, Catalan and Basque. Castilian was a dialect of Latin that originated in Castile in the 8th century and then spread through the rest of the Peninsula in later centuries and on to the New World.
“The Spanish constitution calls it ‘castellano’ but the institution that regulates it is called the Real Academia de la Lengua Española. What nonsense!” says Guillermo Carceles de la Hoz, head of Spanish Lang and Lit at the CIC, a prestigious Barcelona escuela de bachillerato. “I don’t honestly believe that the word ‘español’ should be used, but then I’m Catalan!” However he seeks above all to convey to his students that a language is just that, a form of communication, and should never be used for political purposes.
Anyway, Spanish is the mother tongue of around 400 million people, including growing numbers in the USA due to immigration. In fact, as writer and student of Spanish Randy B. Hecht reports from New York, Spanish has certainly become the second language in the city overall. “My Korean greengrocer speaks Spanish with her Mexican employees; the Palestinian who owns the corner store speaks Spanish with his Hispanic customers.”Spanish lessons are now common in our schools which is great considering how many of us holiday in Spain. For adults who don’t want to be outdone by their teenagers there are a range of options for picking up the basics or expanding your language skills. If you are lucky you will be able to find a local school offering Spanish lessons by a real Spanish person – there is really no substitute for hearing the authentic accent and learning how the language is actually spoken.
Spanish is spoken in: Cuba, The Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico (with English), Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay (with Guarani), The Philippines (with English & Tagalog), Spain, Andorra, Morocco, Belize, Equatorial Guinea, USA
One notable aspect of Spanish world-wide, it is said, is its unity. But when you find yourself vacantly repeating “Que? Que?”, Fawlty Towers style to the plumber’s assistant from Ecuador, you would be forgiven for wondering whether all these 400 million souls do actually speak the same language.
Every community has its own spoken variant, but Spanish does have a general educated written standard so that careful speakers from Havana, Bogota and Barcelona can understand each other. Unlike Portuguese and Brazilian, there is a uniform spelling and no major differences in vocabulary and syntax. The educated standard is represented by the Madrid-based Real Academia, which dictates approved spellings and which words to recognise for its dictionary.
When the new version of their dictionary came out, there was an uproar about the incorporation of Latin American words. But of the four major Spanish-speaking areas – Spain, Mexico, Colombia and Argentina – peninsular Spanish accounts for only 10 per cent.
A major difficulty for people handling technical Spanish is to find forms common to the four major Spanish-speaking areas. Should ‘black holes’, for example be ‘agujeros negros’ (Spain) or ‘hoyos negros’ (Mexico)?
Brazil is the only non Spanish-speaking country in MERCASUR and a huge number of students from there are anxious to learn. If Spanish is made compulsory in Brazilian schools, 200,000 teachers will be needed. However, although teaching throughout the world may continue to grow, it is predicted that the number of speakers will soon stop increasing, as second-generation immigrants in the US shift to English.